Developer 17-BIT’s Skulls of the Shogun may be one of the most important games of the year. Seriously. Besides being fun to play (which we’ll get to in a bit), it’s part of a new Microsoft initiative which makes Sony’s PS3/Vita cross-compatibility seem insignificant in comparison. Oh, and did we mention it’s fun?
So picture this: you load up a game of Skulls on your Xbox 360 and take a turn with your friend, who is also playing on his Xbox 360. The turns go quickly because you’re both there, moving units and assigning orders in real time. You glance at the clock and realize you need to catch a train, so you jump onto the train. Using a Windows Phone, you can continue the same game with your friend, who recently switched from his Xbox to his Microsoft Surface or Windows 8 PC. And the game keeps going.
That’s the promise of Skulls of the Shogun: a game you can play anywhere. While it might sound like a pipe dream, we actually saw it working, exactly like that, only a few days ago. We played on the Xbox, someone else played on a Tablet running Windows 8, and someone else using their Windows Phone to play. It all moved quickly and seamlessly, like a game of Words with Friends spread over multiple different consoles. With undead warriors. It's a crazy futuristic concept and it's absolutely awesome.
This wouldn’t matter at all if the game wasn’t fun. Thankfully, 17-BIT has taken the best elements from others in the tactical RPG genre, picking and choosing pieces from Final Fantasy Tactics, Advanced Wars, and other classics to create a streamlined strategy RPG with a focus on accessibility. Characters can move a certain distance and have a pre-determined number of actions - but it’s not grid-based, and it doesn’t feel as rigid as games like Disgaea. It’s a quick, easy-to-learn experience that we picked up fairly quickly. While it’s still complex, with different units being able to use the environments to their advantage to knock foes off cliffs or corner opponents, it’s by no means hard to understand.
There’s also a full single-player campaign, just in case 24/7 multiplayer isn't your thing. We saw a few chapters of the story-filled tale, following a warrior sent to the Samurai afterlife after being betrayed by his second in command. We liked what was on display: the plot was light-hearted and funny, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
For as fun as it was, the real ace in the hole for Skulls of the Shogun is its ambition. Making a game compatible across three different systems at launch is insane, and could end up making it stand out from everything else. Expect to see it go live whenever Windows 8 launches, which is expected to be later this year.